This paper aims to explore how enforced forms of social isolation arising from the first COVID-19 lockdown influenced experiences of problem substance use, relapse and coping strategies for recovery in individuals engaging with harm reduction recovery services.
A qualitative semi-structured interview design was adopted for this research. Seven participants were recruited from a harm reduction recovery organisation. During their initial interview, participants volunteered information regarding their experience of the first lockdown due to emerging concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants completed a second semi-structured interview at the end of the first lockdown regarding their experience of enforced isolation during this time.
Three themes identified from the analysis were isolation resulting in hindered human capabilities; adjusting to a new normal: an individual experience; and unexpected benefits to recovery resulting from isolation. While some participants reported boredom, loneliness and relapse events, others reported that the national response to the virus did not adversely affect them as they had already adjusted to living in a state of anxiety, isolation and uncertainty. These findings illuminate negative, neutral and positive aspects of substance use recovery throughout the COVID-19 lockdown as well as highlighting the complex and individualised role that social connectedness plays in relapse occurrence.
Participants reported differences in how they were affected by the pandemic, leading to theoretical implications for the effect of social isolation on recovery. For this reason, individuals with a history of dependency should be considered potentially vulnerable to the effects of enforced isolation and should be supported accordingly.
Smith, E., Carter, M., Walklet, E. and Hazell, P. (2021), "Investigating the experiences of individuals in recovery from problem substance use and their perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/DAT-01-2021-0003
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